124 of 135 people found the following review helpful
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"On Basilisk Station" is the first book in a truly wonderful space opera series about a space navy set three thousand years in the future and featuring David Weber's best fictional heroine, "Honor Harrington." The books are best read in sequence and I strongly recommend that you start with this one.
Despite the futuristic setting, there are strong parallels with Nelson's navy, particularly during the first few books in the series. The assumed technology in the first five Honor Harrington stories imposes constraints on space navy officers similar to those which the technology of fighting sail imposed on wet navy officers two hundred years ago. And the galactic situation in the first eleven novels contains strong similarities to the strategic and political situation in European history at the time of the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.
This seems to be quite deliberate: a number of thinly veiled (and amusing) hints in the books indicate that they are to some extent a tribute to C.S. Forester, while the main heroine of the books, Honor Harrington, appears to be a mix of Admiral Horatio Nelson and C.S. Forester's character "Horatio Hornblower."
As we go through the series the pressure of conflict spurs technological advance and the introduction of new weapos and ship types so that the parallels with Nelson's navy are gradually repaced by similarities with later periods: and after a huge battle in book eeven, "At All Costs" which has parallels with Trafagar, the "Nelson v. Napoleon in space" plot is gradually succeeded by an entirely different storyline with new allies and enemies.
In this first book of the series, the newly promoted Commander Honor Harrington takes up her first command of a significant fleet unit, the old light cruiser "H.M.S. Fearless" which has just been rebuilt with a very unusual armament.
Honor Harrington comes from a middle-class family with no naval tradition - both her parents are medical professionals, ust as Nelson's and Hornblower's fathers were - and has worked her way up the officer ranks of the navy of the Star Kingdom of Manticore on pure ability with no influential family friends to support her. At times it seems that her only friend in the navy is her "Treecat" Nimitz.
Treecats are six-legged creatures similar in size and shape to terran cats, who are fully telepathic among themselves and empaths with humans - e.g. they can read a human's emotions and sometimes form a unique bond with a specific human within which the exchange of emotions is two-way. Some people make the mistake of assuming that Nimitz is just Honor's pet cat: it will become clear during the series just how much more than that he is.
After a short spell with the fleet, HMS Fearless is assigned to Basilisk station. The senior officer on the station turns out to be an enemy of Honor's going back to their time at Naval academy, and promptly takes his ship back home for repairs leaving her with orders to look after the Basilisk system and the completely inadequate force of one light cruiser with which to do so.
As if that were not bad enough, a powerful and unfriendly neighbouring star nation, the "People's Republic of Haven" is casting greedy eyes at Basilisk and looking for an opportunity to grab the system.
This is a really clever story with wonderful and believable characters, brilliantly described space battles, and a well crafted set of explanations of how the tactical situations which the characters find themselves in relate both to the technology their ships use and the political dynamics which set up the conflicts they find themselves in. Because this is the first book of the series Dave Weber has to devote a fair amount of time to explaining the how faster than light travel and space weapons work in the series, but the explanations are reasonably interesting, internally consistent, and not too hard to follow.
Many people read Weber for the space battles, and this book scores very highly here. In some of the later books of the series when describing major fleet battles, Dave Weber somtimes writes a bit too much like the wargame designer he once was, but he is superb when describing single-ship or small unit actions and never better than in "On Basilisk Station."
If you like this book, you can go on to the rest of the series. At the time of writing there are 21 full length novels (with number 22 due shortly), five short story collections and a companion book in the "Honorverse" as the fictional galaxy in which these stories are set is sometimes known. At the time of updating this review in March 2014 the main series which tells the story of Honor Harrington herself currently runs to thirteen novels; in order these are
On Basilisk Station
The Honor of the Queen
The Short Victorious War
Field of Dishonour
Flag in Exile
Honor among Enemies
In Enemy Hands
Echoes of Honor
Ashes of Victory
War of Honor
At All Costs
Mission of Honor
A Rising Thunder
The five short story collections set in the same universe, not all of which feature Honor Harrington herself, are
Worlds of Honor
Worlds of Honor II: More than Honor
Worlds of Honor III: Changer of Worlds
Worlds of Honor IV: The Service of the Sword
Worlds of Hono V: In Fire Forged
There are three spin-off series: the first begins with "Crown of Slaves" (with Eric Flint) which is a story of espionage and intrigue featuring a number of characters first introduced in earlier Honor Harrington books or short stories, the sequels to this are "Torch of Freedom" and "Cauldron of Ghosts (Crown of Slaves)" which is due for publiscation shortly.
The second spin-off series begins with "The Shadow of Saganami" which at first appears to be a kind of "next generation" novel featuring a number of younger officers in the navies of Manticore and her ally Grayson. This concentrates on the events in an area of the galaxy known as the Talbot Quadrant and two sequels, "Storm from the Shadows" and "Shadow of Freedom" are also set there.
There is also a prequel series set five hundred years earler and aimed mainly at young adults, featuring Honor Harrington's ancestor Stephanie Harrington, who as a preteen girl became was the first human to be adopted by a Sphinx Treecat. This series, known as the "Star Kingdom" series, is about how Treecats came to be recognised as an intelligent species and currently consists of
"A beautiful friendship"
For amusement, if you want to try to look for the parallels to nations and individuals from the French revolutionary period and the Hornblower books, one possible translation would be:
People's Republic of Haven = Revolutionary France
Star Kingdom of Manticore = Great Britain
Gryphon = Scotland
Prime Minister Alan Summervale = Pitt the Younger
Hamish Alexander, later Earl White Haven = Admiral Edward Pellew
Honor Harrington, = Horatio Hornblower
Alistair McKeon = William Bush
Crown loyalists and Centrists = Tory supporters of Pitt
Conservative Association = hardline High Tories
New Kiev Liberals = Whig Oligarchists
Progressives and traditional liberals = Whig radicals
Anderman Empire = Kingdom of Prussia
Silesia = Poland
At the time of the early books like "On Basilisk Station" I saw parallels between the relationship between the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the Solarian League and that between Great Britain and the infant United States of America. The Solarian League is a trading nation which is some distance away (other side of the Atlantic) from the main protagonists in the war between Manticore and Haven (Britain and France), is annoyed with both sides because of trade restrictions, and is also a major market for genetic slaves (the slave trade). However, these parallels fall apart in the more recent books.
200 of 224 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2001
Rather than review this particular book, I thought that I'd give a capsul review of the series, as a whole. Given that, if you do like this one, you're in for a long haul, I thought that this would be fair.
First of all, the Harrington series stands at the intersection of two genres: space opera and military SF. Space Opera is a style of story with interstellar vistas, larger than life characters and situations, and (typically, and especially in this case) more than a dash of melodrama. Military SF is a sub-genre of science fiction that concentrates its focus on the details of high-tech conflict -- think Tom Clancy in space. The first warning is that if either of these styles of fiction turn you off, you probably won't like these books.
The writing style of Mr. Weber is servicable for the type of story he's telling. He's very good at writing action sequences, and providing you villains to hate, and jerking a tear or two, and at compelling you to keep turning the pages of his stories. His work, however, does not constitute high art. It's not what I would call low-brow, either, but I think that it is fair to describe it as relatively unsophisticated. In particular, he writes characters that are, on the whole, somewhat flat, often substituting emotional charge for true characterization. If you want more than that out of a book, these aren't for you, either.
I should note that the books are deliberately written to echo the Horatio Hornblower stories and that there are many clever parallels between the future kingdoms of the novels and the historical conflict between France and the allied nations during the Napoleonic era. History a literature buffs may get a kick out of this, but it should be noted that it isn't an exceptionally sophisticated set of parallels. It's more of a light spice for those who like such things.
What you can expect is a very fun and action oriented set of stories. One co-worker aptly described them as "airplane books" (that is, books that are good to read during a long flight), and I'm inclined to agree. For them, they've been a slightly guilty pleasure, but a pleasure all the same. If you want something that is manifestly enjoyable and unchallenging, or if you simply hungry for something to fill your reading time, I can't think of many series which would fit the bill quite so well. They aren't high art but they do a good job of being everything that they are intended to be.
41 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2005
Format: Mass Market PaperbackVerified Purchase
What happens when you are given command of a ship that has been "gutted" in a naval experiment and are sent out to wargame against the big boys? Furthermore, what happens when you use your new system to take them all by surprise, ONCE, and then get demolished each time after that because everyone is now ready for the trick? Just to make matters worse, you embarass the admiral who came up with the one time gimmick. The answer is that you get sent off to a post no one wants where you will be out of sight and out of mind. That's what happens to Honor.
Honor's task is virtually impossible and her enemies want her to fail. She dissapoints them in that she succeeds magnificnetly. Along the way, she becomes a naval hero in the tradition of Horatio Hornblower.
Weber does a great job adapting the institutions of the Royal Navy from the Napoleonic wars into space opera. This is true in terms of politics and culture as well as in strategy and tactics. In its context, it is believable and fun.
No one should expect a lesson in physics. That is not what this story is about. Instead, it is about, courage, leadership and, yes, Honor. It is a fun read and I am looking forward to the reset of the series.
29 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2002
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Disclaimer: I am a reader who heavily prefers her SF to focus on humans over hardware(this is simply a reflection of my status as an impoverished low-techie who can't afford good stuff in this universe, either, and so would rather not pine for otherworldly stuff in her reading). I have come to understand in the last few years that a third broadly generalized type of SF fan exists, who loves the military/space battle aspect of SF -- which I am also not, due to ignorance of military matters in this century. So, you are now well-equipped to see where my point of view is coming from in my rating here.
On Basilisk Station is the first in the Honor Harrington series, of which I have currently read three. Honor is a newly promoted captain, beautiful, athletic and talented, whose first posting on the ship HMS Fearless at the disreputable Basilisk Station is a punishment for causing a high-ranking officer to lose face. The punishment is really in the impossible situation, in which the Fearless is to be responsible for singlehandedly guarding the entire system there, where there should be several such ships to do that job. In a nutshell, Honor rises to the challenge and makes the best of a bad situation by some innovative patrol scheduling. Her deft handling of other tricky problems and unexpectedly saving the Manticoran fleet from losing a war gains her honor and respect among her crew and her far-off superiors.
I have heard the Honor Harrington series compared to other SF series dealing with space battles, but the reason I picked up On Basilisk Station is that Weber's books were often recommended for those who like Bujold's Vorkosigan novels. Not likely. The main character (Honor Harrington) is far too perfect on every level (except, naturally, that she has a negative self-image)to be believable or sympathetic, unlike Miles Vorkosigan. The author really has created a superwoman version of the typical male SF superhero, which is exactly the kind of thing that loses me. The battle scenes are good, the world-building is interesting and well-thought-out; but the characters are a bit stereotyped and/or unexplored.
If you really like military- and hardware-oriented SF, this is just the book for you. But as a fan of character-driven fiction, I just could not muster the necessary enthusiasm, especially when my expectations were falsely raised by comparisons with some of my favorite authors.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I thought I'd write a review for what I remember as the best series I've read in science fiction. I have pretty much read most of all the greats here. The books itself is not as good as Card's Ender's Game, but the series as a whole is much better. I have to go back and reread the series from time to time just to make sure I don't forget anything, or pick up something I missed before. Pretty much anything this guy writes I buy because its all great. No other series has given me as much pleasure to read. As a college student with a strickly limited budget I must conserve my money and only buy the basic essentials. These books are some of those essentials. BUY THE BOOK, if you disagree you know where to find me. Have a nice day
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2008
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The concept of this series is remarkably brilliant in its simplicity. Basically: Horatio Hornblower in space, as a woman. Sounds fun, doesn't it? I certainly thought so. Space fleets, battles, snappy uniforms, old-fashioned broadsides and naval protocol. I tried reading this book three times before sheer stubbornness won out. The simple plot follows Honor Harrington as she takes command of the space battleship HMS Fearless and patrols a remote and strategic solar system. She has to break in her ship and crew and contend with various dilemmas and obstacles.
The first problem we run into is the languid pacing Mr. Weber sets. Far from being an exciting fast-paced space adventure, the book very quickly gets bogged down in numerous by-the-way details. Conversations go on too long -- do we really need to know every word uttered, every "Yes sir" and "All right"? The politics of the future are explained extensively, and once or twice I forgot which nation was being discussed, since both the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the People's Republic of Haven are equally belligerent. Details of a pseudo-scientific nature are expounded upon to exhaustion. Mr. Weber has certainly done a fine job coming up with a way for spaceships to fight their battles like ships of the line in the age of sail, but altogether he argues his points too much. Talking us through various problems and their solutions frequently results in two or three pages of gibberish.
The effect of all that is a book that is easily twice as long as it needs to be, even allowing the author room for style. I would have edited this book with a paper-cutter.
The second problem is the characters. There are a lot of them, and they are not particularly well developed. Even Honor comes off a bit underwritten. Many scenes that could have shown the relationships more clearly are left out in favor of passages that simply tell us these things. This lesson of "show, don't tell" is drummed into the head of every writing student in America. Don't TELL us that Honor was an unforgiving captain, SHOW us a scene of her busting someone's balls. Most of the book's action is delivered in reports. Also worth mentioning are the several scenes of political and military staff meetings, which serve as giant, lumbering infodumps, and clog up the narrative until there's hardly any room left for a story.
Everyone else is burdened with an overwhelming amount of internal monologue cataloging their copious self-doubt. No one on board HMS Fearless seems to have any confidence whatsoever. This causes conversations and scenes to drag on a bit, since every decision made leads to the character questioning himself and his actions. This gives every character the chance of overcoming his or her perceived flaws and rising to the occasion; it also makes all the characters run together until you can't tell one from the next. Maybe a glossary or Dramatis Personae would have come in handy?
The surfeit of technical detail also drains the life out of action scenes. It can be difficult to picture what's going on. Sometimes it can be too easy: at one point near the end our heroes massacre a population of drugged-up primitive aliens, in a disgusting display of self-righteous colonialism. Mr. Weber describes these scenes with fanboyish gusto.
When I started reading this book I was hoping for a story that matched some of the covers of later volumes, with all the action and drama they imply. This book hardly seemed to have any action at all. When the climax finally arrived I cared so little for the characters that I was hoping the bad guys would win. I can't say this enough: there was NO character development whatsoever, just a bunch of interchangeable names. I won't bother with the sequels.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2000
This books marks the beginning of the Honor Harrington series. David Weber has managed to translate the napoleonic wars into a space setting, justifying it all with careful detail on the technology that makes it possible. The details are legion: ships and detachments months out of communications range, broadside battles, and the interspace war between a monarchy and a corrupt republic.
But that isn't all. Although Weber spends some time (and written word) on establishing his world, he does not forget to let us get to know his main characters. The hero is Honor Harrington, Commander in the Manticoran Space Navy, commanding a light cruiser. But other characters, which will continue to reappear as the series goes on, also populate the pages, giving us glimpses (from the brief look into the merchant magnate Hauptmann to the breaking and remaking of Alistair McKeon) of characters whose complexity is clear and will only continue to develop. And of course, there is tension, both military and interpersonal, giving it all a nice sense of balance for those interested in characters and those interested in hardware. Weber also takes a lot of care to portray the military discipline of life aboard a ship of war realistically.
I have recommended this book to a number of friends, and they all became hooked on the series. If you like science fiction with a good mixture of both hardness and space opera, then this book is definitely what you should read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 1999
"On Basilisk Station" introduces us to Honor Harrington, a naval officer (of the interstellar variety) with a penchant for unorthodox tactical manouevres and her empathic Sphinxian treecat, Nimitz. We join Honor and her crew as she prepares to assume command of the light-cruiser Fearless which has recently been fitted out with a radical new weapons arrangement. When the new weaponry turns out to be something of an embarrassment to its creators in the fleet tactical exercises, Honor and her crew are banished to the planet Basilisk (a kind of naval officers' purgatory). How Honor succeeds in winning back the respect of her crew, while at the same time single-handedly repelling an attack from the Peoples' Republic of Haven (an impecunious nation bent on getting rich again in any way possible)as well as thwarting the local smuggling ring on Basilisk, makes up the remainder of the story. The rest is history! Enjoy!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 1999
After reading this book, I was completely hooked on Honor. There are two great qualities to this work and the other books in the series, The internally consistant and well explained technology, and Weber's complete lack of concern for wiping out characters. As far as the first one goes, I, for one, appreciate greatly the explainations of how the technology works, why the tactics are such as they are, and how these ships are fought. Some may see it as techno-babble, but a few years ago so were RAM, CPU, and all the other terms that we now use in casual conversation. Second, I really appreciate how Weber has no problem with killing his characters. In the situations that Honor gets herself and her crews into, some people aren't going to come back. The main characters are in dangerous situations, and some of them get bitten. Good! Now, if Mr Weber would only write the next ones faster.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I would like to start this review by stating that I loathe science fiction. To me, it encompasses all that's lazy and annoying about fiction: weak characters, lame plots, and whenever the protagonist is cornered, well the author can conjure some gizmo to get him out of trouble, something you've never seen before, though of course the characters act as if it's completely reasonable and normal. I also don't like pastiches much. There's a science fiction/fantasy series that's pretty directly a rip-off of Nero Wolfe, for instance, and for my money readers should stick with the original.
All of that leads up to David Weber's Honor Harrington series having a very good reputation. It's obvious that these books are a concious pastiche of the Horatio Hornblower series (the first book is dedicated to Hornblower author C.S.Forester) but for some reason I didn't mind. Instead, I found myself staying up to finish the story.
Honor Harrington has been given her second command. It's an antique light cruiser, rearmed with experimental weaponry that leaves it conventionally vulnerable, but potentially lethal if it can surprise the enemy. Harrington is first to maneuver the ship in exercises, and in those she contrives to upset or humiliate just about everyone. The result of that is being sent into virtual exile at Basilisk Station, where her senior officer immediately decamps, leaving her in charge. This is only the start of her problems: the crew is unhappy with her because they think she caused the exile, the planet she's guarding has a band of fanatic drug addicts on it, one of the oldest merchant clans is mad at her for thwarting their efforts to smuggle illegal furs, and of course a neighboring space empire covets Basilisk station, and its nearby wormhole (very important for interplanetary commerce). Honor takes each challenge in stride, and expects no less from her crew.
There are cute touches to the story. Honor is from a planet where many of the natives bond empathically with six-legged cats called treecats, and Honor's pet is named Nimitz (presumably after the U.S. WWII admiral). One of her crewmen is named Sam Houston Webster. Apparently, the history of Earth isn't completely lost, as is the case in some Sci Fi books.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to others. I'm going to go looking for the next one in the series soon.